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Reflections from Volunteer Andrew Strongin

I’m not here to argue or offer any polemic about open and porous borders or the means and methods of detection and detention.  I’m here, rather, as a witness to the suffering and dying on our southern border. 

I was fortunate to spend the past week volunteering with the ABA’s ProBAR project, based in Harlingen, Texas, and was privileged to aid a 29-year-old Honduran asylum seeker.  My client spent his entire life in San Pedro Sula, often described as the Murder Capital of the World, where even the notorious MS-13 and Mara 18 transnational gangs complain of the violence. My client expressed no lifelong desire to come to the United States to work and prosper; he told, through literal tears, of his efforts as a reluctant, fledgling community activist, drawn to the work after the gangland murder of his friend.  His efforts were paid in repeated death threats from the “escuadrón de la muerte” (death squad), a car driven by police, with gang enforcers as the triggermen, the worst kind of scrip.  My client never once spoke of his future; he spoke only about finding safety from his past.

Meanwhile, my wife volunteered at La Posada Providencia, a nearby shelter, helping to teach English to asylum seekers waiting for papers or hearings and, hopefully, a chance at safety. There, she met a sweet young woman and her 8-month-old child, a natural-born US citizen, born here of this young woman and the man who raped her in her home country. The woman expressed no wish to leave her country; her mother insisted that she leave, knowing that she was lucky to have survived her first attack. 

 In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"  Today, in 2019, we say: “Remain in Mexico,” where asylum seekers are met by the waiting arms of the Mexican cartels and yet more privations. Formerly, these unfortunates found shelter in the U.S., at least long enough for a chance to tell a story to a wealthy and compassionate nation.  I know, this sounds political, but this warning about conditions in the border state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, comes straight from the State Department. 

Whatever may be said about open or porous borders, the cost is being paid by impoverished, powerless people beset by ruthless gangs and corrupt police.  A few minutes with google will tell you more than you ever would hope to know.  We can and must resolve our policy differences over immigration limits and enforcement.  In the meantime, we have land and money enough to offer temporary shelter to these unfortunates; they should not be the pawns in our political and economic battles.

This is a crisis, but there are good people working tirelessly.  It was my privilege to spend a week working with two of them, Meredith Linsky, the Director of the ABA’s Commission on Immigration, and Laura Peña, Pro Bono Counsel.  They and the rest of their staff deserve our thanks, and they need our help.

Andrew Strongin

Arbitrator and Mediator